Parole Board Obligated to Investigate and Correct Significant Errors in Record Considered for Inmate’s Release
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled today that information relied on by the state parole board when considering a prisoner for release must be reasonably accurate and relate to the prisoner.
Because Ohio has established a parole system, and statutes and regulations require the state’s parole authority to consider relevant information about a prisoner up for parole, the state has created a minimal due-process expectation that the information used when reviewing parole eligibility is substantively correct and pertinent, the court held.
In a 6-1 decision, written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, the court granted a writ to inmate Bernard R. Keith, ordering the Ohio Adult Parole Authority and the chair of the Ohio Parole Board to investigate Keith’s allegations of errors and to correct any substantive mistakes in the record used to consider him for parole.
The decision reverses the judgment of the Tenth District Court of Appeals.
Keith, who is currently in prison for an indefinite term, began a six-month sentence at the Lorain Correctional Institution in November 2011. A hearing officer then revoked Keith’s previous parole, and a parole release hearing was held in February 2012.
The board denied Keith’s release, mentioning several factors and noting he had been paroled eight times.
Keith sent a letter to Cynthia Mausser, chair of the parole board, asking for a correction to the number of times he had been paroled and for a new hearing. The board declined his requests, and he filed a writ of mandamus on May 8, 2012, in the Tenth District. During the court’s proceedings, Keith supplemented his complaint with more claims of other errors in his records.
In an affidavit, Mausser stated that Keith’s record had been corrected to reflect that he had been paroled six times, rather than eight, and that the board then voted not to modify its earlier decision or grant him a new hearing.
In today’s opinion, Justice Lanzinger noted that state regulations require the parole board to consider various reports and other relevant written information relating to the inmate being reviewed for parole.
“The existence of this formal process for considering parole rightly gives parolees some expectation that they are to be judged on their own substantively correct reports,” she wrote. “Requiring the board to consider specific factors to determine the parolee’s fitness for release would not mean anything if the board is permitted to rely on incorrect, and therefore irrelevant, information about a particular candidate.”
The court held that for a prisoner with an indeterminate sentence, the parole authority “may not rely on information that it knows or has reason to know is inaccurate” and must investigate credible allegations and fix any significant errors in the prisoner’s record before considering the inmate for parole.
“[H]aving set up the system and defined at least some of the factors to be considered in the parole decision, the state has created a minimal due-process expectation that the factors considered at a parole hearing are to be as described in the statute or rule and are to actually and accurately pertain to the prisoner whose parole is being considered,” Justice Lanzinger reasoned.
She also explained the impact of today’s decision on two prior Ohio Supreme Court cases. In State ex rel. Hattie v. Goldhardt (1994), the court concluded that because a potential parolee was not deprived of life, liberty, or property by being denied release, he could not claim a due process violation for an allegedly inaccurate parole score sheet. To the extent that today’s ruling conflicts with that case, Hattie is overruled, Justice Lanzinger concluded.
However, today’s decision does not overrule State ex rel. Henderson v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr. (1998), which held that a prisoner has no constitutional or statutory right to parole and that a prisoner denied parole is not deprived of liberty as long as parole decisions are discretionary under state law.
“Ohio’s system is entirely discretionary and creates no expectation of parole and no due-process right to parole itself,” she wrote.
Joining the court’s majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill. Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented without a written opinion.
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